The second part of our feature outlining the experiences of nine different clothing and footwear companies who have set up mass customisation practices, takes in Lands End, Esquel and the Left Foot Shoe Company. Niki Tait reports.

Left Foot Shoe Company
Pomarfin Oy is one of Finland's leading shoe manufacturers, employing 186 people with factories in Pomarkku, Finland and Prnu, Estonia. In 2002 it achieved a turnover of 7.6 million euros, up 10 per cent over the previous year.

Two and a half years ago the company founded the Left Foot Shoe Company, a mass customised men's formal shoe concept selling through retail outlets in Helsinki, Pomarkku, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Birmingham, and Moscow.

In 1998 Left Foot started developing a system for detailed 3D measuring of customers' feet, and the resulting CMS system (computerised measuring) forms the basis of its concept. Using computer aided design, 3D foot scanning, computer guided cutting systems and an automated production control system, the company now produces industrially manufactured tailored shoes using the best selection of available lasts for each foot.

The customer gets a pair of made-to-measure shoes with his/her own selection of leather, colour, sole, lacing, insole printing, etc, delivered in three weeks. Only one visit to a Left Foot outlet is required. Once the customer's feet have been scanned at a Left Foot outlet and the customer has been signed into the CMS system, new shoes can also be purchased via the Left Foot Internet site using the customer's personal password which brings up his detail and size.

The concept enables Left Foot to manufacture made-to-measure shoes at a price that is very close to mass-produced shoes of the same quality. Advantages to the customer are said to include convenience, an excellent fit and comfort from a wide selection of shoe combinations, one-time fitting, and a future Internet purchase option. The retailer benefits from no stock, no unsold pairs and no discounts, and a higher absolute profit per pair.

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The Left Foot Shoe company operation

For the manufacturer there is an opportunity to capitalise on tailored shoes manufactured to mass production scale, low cost market testing, and enhanced data exchange throughout the whole value chain from shop to Internet to production, delivery and customer. In terms of profit it yields an attractive premium compared to traditional shoes, with no stock and no excess production.

Encouraging results within its own retail network has provided a springboard for further expansion. The Left Foot concept has been modified to enable manufacturing of multiple shoe types and can be integrated into almost any shoe manufacturing technology.

Future plans for the company are to expand its own retail network with more stores, new countries and new shoe types whilst developing a licensee network of retailers and manufacturers over multiple countries.

Current production levels are around 10,000 pairs per year, and all are manufactured within the company's own factory in Finland. The computer uses 15 measurements to find the best fit, and because the concept is based on best fit rather than a completely made-to-measure shoe, each size of a standard shoe is held within the store for the customer to try on according to computer fit recommendations. Reject levels average 2-3 per cent.

Massschuh.de
This approach contrasts to that of Massschuh.de. Here a national German network of shoe makers and their partners, using modern manufacturing and design technologies combined with traditional skills, are aiming to provide customised footwear at an affordable price, in their case between 300-400 euros.
They are offering true made-to-measure, and before the shoe can be made individual personalised lasts have to be manufactured with the aid of OptiCad. The concept will not be operational until next year and many of their customers are expected to be those who need to buy specially-made orthopaedic shoes.

Lands' End
Lands' End is the USA's largest catalogue sales company with a 2002 turnover of $1.6 billion and customers in 185 countries. It was acquired by the Sears Corporation in June 2002, Sears being the US's third largest retailer with sales of $40 billion per annum. Lands' End has been selling online since 1995 and nowadays over a third of its sales are made over the Internet.

To help enable customers to see what the clothes would look like on themselves 'My Virtual Model' was incorporated into the website in 1998 and has proved very popular.

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The methodolgy behind Lands' End's mass customisation programme

During 2000 the company began to experiment with the idea of personalised clothing, taking the [TC]² body scanner around the USA with a view to helping customers find their best fit. Between 1-2000 customers a day access the company's website, but at a speed of scanning five customers per hour, it only achieved 5000 scans within the first three months of the road tour.

With 130,000 SKU's within the ladies' categories alone on the Lands' End website, a computerised personalised shopper was developed to help guide customers to the clothes they are most likely to buy. Using the new tool, the customers select which clothes they prefer from ten pairs of outfits; the system then automatically leads them to clothes they should like.

The latest personalised service is Lands' End Custom which enables customers to design online their own jeans and chinos from a modular selection of alternatives. Using Archetype to automatically adapt patterns from the customer's size information, each garment is cut using a computerised single ply cutter and produced using modular manufacturing techniques.

To reduce shipping time the production facilities are located in Latin America for the USA, and in Thailand for distribution to Asia. This latter plant, combined with air freighting, will be the base from which this customised service is expanded to Europe in the future.

Esquel Group
Although the Hong Kong based Esquel Group is one of the world's largest contract manufacturers employing 47,000 people, it is also adopting mass customisation techniques within a mass production sample making environment.

Making shirts, for example, for Marks and Spencer, Nordstrom and Brooks Brothers, each customer has its own specific requirements, many of which are standard between styles. Esquel has, in essence, modularised the shirt and, using a visual configurator, the personalised specification can be quickly and easily built up.

Key is the product family structure where the modules are broken up for each product or 'family' type and brand customer profile. The customer profile outlines the default when developing a new shirt which is then personalised with the buyer for each style.

Possen.com
Possen.com claims to be first in the world to use body scanning in a retail/manufacturing environment and has invested 4 million euros over the last four years in state-of-the-art technology to develop its 'e-tailor' concept. This mass customised suit manufacturer, whose suits retail at 450 euros and above, regards all suppliers of mass produced suits as its main competitors.

Insole printing at the Left Foot Company

Although using the Internet for repeat sales, customers must visit the store for their first suit so they can be measured using the Human Solutions body scanner, helped though the design choice, and see and feel the fabric.

Experience has shown that for the configurator to be useful it has to be easy to use, offering different levels of choice for different price and product categories. For example, if a man just wants a simple suit then that is all the configurator should offer him, maybe limiting his selection to 50 variations. For the more fashion-conscious and adventurous, the configurator offers more choice, up to 4000 different combinations including cloth, pocket number, shape and position, lapel shapes, back vents, etc.

Pricing is also key, and is calculated in real time as the customer works through the configurator. The system is connected online with head office, fabric stores, etc, eliminating the possibility of a customer ordering a suit from cloth which is not available. Online traceability of the order from concept to delivery is required, with no more than a three week delivery time. Manufacturing patterns are automatically adapted and graded using the body-scanned customer measurements rather than individual customer blocks being made from scratch.

Bivolino.com
Bivolino.com is an online mass customised shirt shop which started operation in 1998. The customer can digitally design, over the Internet, his own shirt from a selection of modular components using the Shirtdotnet.com B2B clothing software platform and configurator which uses its Linosoft software to automatically adapt and grade existing patterns to the customer's individual size and shape.

Bivolino.com is an online mass customise shirt shop

No tape measure is required; the customer is just asked a series of questions such as height, weight, shirt neck size, and then a series of algorithms calculates the size and fit detail. The modified patterns for each individual order are sent online to the relevant manufacturers, in the case of Bivolino situated in Eastern Europe and the Southern Mediterranean countries where costs are low and proximity near.

Linosoft is said to work for 96 per cent of the population, but if a customer's measurements are outside its ability, Bivolino will produce a completely made-to-measure shirt at an additional cost of 16 euros over the cost of the 'best fit' shirt which typically retails at around 75 euros.
Gerber Technology

As well as supplying technology for the mass customisation industry, Gerber has identified three requirements for implementing a successful mass-customisation manufacturing process.

"The first factor is uniqueness of product. The mass-customised product needs to be different to bring a value to the customer that is not easily obtained elsewhere. The second factor is fulfilment. This refers to the manufacturer's capability to quickly and efficiently make a product for a customer for whom specific requirements must be met or exceeded.

"The third factor is recognition; a manufacturer's ability to provide mass-customisation products must be known to its customers, and they must understand the benefits."

For the first part of this article click here

Niki Tait, C.Text FTI, FCFI heads Apparel Solutions, which provides independent assistance to the apparel industry in the areas of manufacturing methods, industrial engineering, information technology, and quick response.